Belfast Telegraph

WH Smith figures boosted by food on the go sales

Retailer WH Smith hailed its best annual sales for 14 years as it was boosted by surging demand for food on the go across its stores based in airports and train stations.

The chain said it sold more than 10 million meal deals over the year to August 31, helping drive a 4% rise in like-for-like sales in its travel arm.

This offset a 2% fall in comparable sales across the high street stores and left overall group sales up 3% and 1% on a like-for-like basis - its best growth since 2002.

WH Smith posted an 8% hike in bottom-line pre-tax profits of £131 million for the year to August 31, up from £121 million a year earlier.

While sales fell in its high street stores, an ongoing tight control on costs helped drive a 5% rise in trading profits across the division, to £62 million.

It also cheered the success of its new book club with YouTube star Zoella, which launched in June and has already seen good sales.

The group said it was "delighted" with its new tie-up with the bedroom-based blogger, whose real name is Zoe Sugg.

Its results showed the recent "colour therapy" craze was starting to wane, as it said sales of colouring-in books for grown-ups eased back in the second half.

Overall book sales fell 2% over the year as it came up against tough comparatives from a year earlier, but it hopes the new Zoella Book Club will help boost sales - adding to its existing Richard and Judy Book Club and Fresh Talent promotion in the Travel arm.

Profits in the travel business rose by 9% to £87 million, with sales helped by demand for food on the go and also rising passenger numbers.

It said its best-selling meal deal combination was a chicken and bacon sandwich, Cheese & Onion Walkers crisps and water.

The group has been boosting staff in some of its busiest travel stores, such as airports - where it can ring-up around 100,000 sales a week in peak trading.

It is also expanding its travel arm overseas and now has stores or franchise outlets in 22 countries and 34 airports outside the UK.

WH Smith shares rose 3% after the results.